Scotland Day 6 – Heading Home

This was our last day in Scotland. To avoid the expensive and restricted parking in the city centre we took the bus from outside the Edinburgh Zoo and stopped outside the Princes Street Gardens. We cut through the garden, taking some photographs along the way, to get to the Royal Mile.

Paralympics Logo and Edinburgh Castle

Once we found the Royal Mile we then went looking for where the Real Mary King’s Close was located as we’d booked tickets for this the night before for the 11:30 tour. Once we found it we’d still got some time to kill so we headed over the road to look around St. Giles Cathedral. It didn’t take long to look round this one, but did get quite a few shots. To kill a little more time we sat down in the Cathedral for a while before going in search of a cafe we”d heard of which is where J.K. Rowling has stayed whilst writing the first Harry Potter book.

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

St. Giles Cathedral, Interior

We didn’t have to walk far from the cathedral – it was literally a 10 minute walk down the road to locate the cafe called “The Elephant House”. They probably get some tourists visit there these days as they have a sign in the window advertising the fact that it is there where J.K. Rowling had written Harry Potter.

The Elephant House

From there we headed back to The Real Mary King’s Close as it had started to spit with rain; it wasn’t too long a wait before it was time for our tour. Sadly they don’t allow photography in the Close, but it was still interesting to visit. From the entrance you are led downstairs to what is like an underground city that runs beneath the area near the Royal Mile. Each Close is like an alleyway that used to be at surface level and would be where a lot of the cities residents lived. It was explained to us how people living in such close quarters would have helped to spread plague.

Once we’d done there we headed back through the park and took the bus round to the Royal Botanical Gardens – before looking around we stopped off in the cafe there to get some lunch (which was quite expensive compared to other places). We wandered around the botanical gardens for a while before arriving at their greenhouses. There is an admission fee to go round, but it’s not that much and it’s worth the price.

Waterfall

We did experience some issues looking around though as our cameras get misting up – them doing this too regularly could have damaged the sensors so we had to start being careful about where we were using them and how long they were being exposed to different climates for. One of the areas had a nice waterfall I attempted a hand-held long exposure from to get a blurred water effect.

Royal Yacht Britannica

Once finished at the Botanical Gardens we headed back via the bus to pick up the car from the guest house and drove to the coast to see the Royal Yacht Britannica. The car park for it is shared with a shopping mall, and you have to pass through it to get to it. When we got there though we decided the price was too high for how long we’d have to look around so just took some photographs and headed off.

The car was dropped off back at the airport and we headed back to London as our tour of Scotland came to an end.

 

Scotland Day 5 – Loch Ness

We woke up to sun and it stayed sunny for most of the day. A stark contrast from what we’d experienced during our time on the Isle of Skye. The previous night whilst in the pub we’d seen a leaflet on “Jacobite Cruises” of Loch Ness. We knew we wanted to see Loch Ness so it seemed like a good way of getting to see it. Once again I used my phone to book tickets, opting for the “Contemplation” tour which wasn’t too long but saw a reasonable portion of the Loch.

Dochgarroch

The cruise left from Dochgarroch Lock so we headed to this stop and stood around for some time before realising there was a sign there that said that all tours would be from the Clansmen Lock for the foreseeable future. So we ended up having to rush over to that stop, just to find at the ticket office we did in fact need to be at the other lock and didn’t know what we were talking about. We got back to the other lock with a reasonable amount of time to spare, so needn’t have rushed.

Urquhart Castle

The boat had come from Inverness and once we boarded it at the lock gates it then continued on all the way down to Urquhart Castle before doing a U-turn and heading back to drop us off at the lock and presumably continuing up to Inverness. Along the way we saw fighter jets pass overhead, but didn’t manage to get photographs of them due to not being ready with my camera at the time. I did however manage to get some photographs of Urquhart castle.

After the boat tour we drove back up into Inverness and parked in Tesco’s car park – we did go in and buy sandwiches from there so felt we could spend an extra 20 minutes or so in there whilst we headed over to some other places.

Altar and Choir – Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, Inverness

Our first place to visit in Inverness was Saint Andrew’s Cathedral – it wasn’t that impressive but I do like to photograph places of worship when I get chance to. From there we crossed the bridge and headed up to the modern looking castle which is now used as a court building.

Inverness Castle

It was then my turn for the day to get back behind the wheel and do the long drive from Inverness to Edinburgh. The road seemed to go on forever, but we did have a brief pause in a layby to have sandwiches before continuing on along the never ending road.

Forth Road Bridge

Eventually we reached the Forth Bridge, and once over it we drove around for a while to find somewhere to stop and take photographs of it. The viewpoint that was signposted was at a services that was in the process of being built and was currently wasteland.

The Forth Rail Bridge

It then didn’t take too long to get from there back into the outskirts of Edinburgh City. We tried at the “Go Outdoors” store for safari shirts, but despite their website saying that one had stock, they didn’t.

The next stop then turned out to be the wrong guest house, it appears at some point the wrong details had been copied down. Eventually we found the right one opposite the Edinburgh Zoo.

The guest house didn’t have it’s own parking and the owner was miserable. We ended up parking a couple of blocks away on a side street, but then moved the car after eating at the Toby carvery. We’d asked the guest house owner where we could get food, but he was less than helpful then greatly underestimated the distances to the places.

Scotland Day 4 – Isle of Skye

Rain. It’s one of those things that is good for nature, though equally too much can be a bad thing. This was one of those days where relentless rain could cause issues with the road trip. The bad weather threatened to close the bridge off the island – if that happened the only option would be to either sleep in the car or go the long way round to the ferry; though from what we’d heard if the weather is bad enough to close the bridge it will usually stop the ferry also.

The first stop of the day was at The Storr; a rock formation overlooking Portree. When we got there it was still raining heavily and fog had descended on the mountains. Despite this we headed out into the rain and started to climb. It wasn’t long before we were not only wet but coated in mud, and the waterproofs weren’t much help. We never made it to the top, falling mere metres short of the top, but we realised we weren’t going to get any photographs. So reluctantly we headed back down to the car park.

After making it back down we got in the car and drove through even heavier rain and winding roads for an hour until we reached the fairy pools car park for the Cullen Hills. These roads are pretty crazy – narrow winding roads up and down steep hills with no traffic in sight.

Waterfall

The sign in the car park said it was a 9 mile walk, so as we decided we wouldn’t see anything in the rain anyway we didn’t get out the car and drove back to Skye bridge. On the way we passed one waterfall we remembered from the previous day and it had grown from a minor trickle of water to powerful flowing water blasting it’s way off the side of the hill. Not long after this we had to fill up with petrol for the first time on this trip – impressive considering the number of miles we’d covered by this point. It was an obvious sign of how efficient the Audi’s fuel consumption was.

Not long after crossing the bridge to leave the Isle of Skye behind us we did get to take a few photographs due to the rain have receded a little after getting back to the mainland.

Castle Eilean Donan

This time we stopped at Castle Eilean Donan and had lunch. I had a cheese jacket potato and some reasonably good millionaire shortbread. It was £6 to go in the castle, but you can’t take photos inside. I think they should warn you of that beforehand as we may not have gone in otherwise as the best photos were from outside the area you pay to enter.

By this time the rain had reduced to a mere drizzle, so it wasn’t too bad keeping the cameras relatively dry. One thing that interested me about this castle and why I wanted to see it was I’d heard that it had been used in the filming of the movie, Highlander.

From Castle Eilean Donan, the drive to Inverness was over 3 hours, but we did make several stops for photographs of waterfalls and Loch Ness. We even made a stop to photograph Urquhart castle from a distance.

The guest house for the evening was quite out the way down dirt tracks, but at least the rain had stopped and the weather was brightening up. After dropping off bags we went to the nearby Dores Inn. The food was reasonably priced and tasted good.

Once we’d done we went back outside and stood around in the car park for some time taking some HDR shots of Loch Ness as the last light was draining from the sky.

Scotland Day 3 – Glasgow to the Isle of Skye

Inside St. Mungo’s Cathedral, Glasgow

Having breakfast at 08:00 we had plenty of time to get ready for going around Glasgow cathedral. We probably needn’t have rushed too much though – it opened a couple of minutes before 09:30 so we’d been hanging around for about 30 minutes waiting for it to open. In that time a few other people had joined in on the wait.

Blacader’s Aisle, Glasgow Cathedral

Due to the delay in the Cathedral opening we rushed around it as quickly as we could manage so that we were back on the road  and heading North by 10:00. On the way we stopped off at a retail park to visit a “Go Outdoors”, but unfortunately they didn’t have what we were after so was more wasted time.

The road out of Glasgow heading North took us up to Fort William – the one place I’d been to Scotland previously to visit when I went up Ben Nevis as part of “The Three Peaks” back in 2010. This was a long drive and we did have a few stops along the way to take photographs of the Highlands. At one point it was slow progress due to traffic caused by a large number of cyclists taking the same path and there being no space for overtaking.

The Highlands of Scotland

We then stopped again in Fort William to get some sandwiches to eat later once we’d finished our journey to Glenfinnan viaduct. We were on a tight time schedule as we knew the steam train would only cross the viaduct twice a day and had to be there in time for it’s second pass.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

We arrived at the viaduct just before 14:30 and spent 3-4 minutes getting to a viewpoint. Whilst there we set up cameras and took a few test shots before settling in to eat the food we’d bought in Fort William earlier. Although in it’s own right the Glenfinnan Viaduct is well worth the visit for it’s picturesque scene, there was added importance for us as it was used in a number of the Harry Potter films as part of the journey from London to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Once such memorable scene was in the second film when they are chasing the train in the flying car.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

The train was a few minutes late, and disappointingly was going backwards. After these shots we back tracked to Fort William and spent the next few hours heading to the Isle of Skye. It was a little trick as the sat nav didn’t know about the bridge so insisted on taking the ferry. We had to get the satnav to take us as close to where we thought the bridge was as possible and then once we’d found the bridge set the destination to be the guest house we’d be staying at.

Isle of Skye

We also stopped at Eilean Donan castle for a few exterior photos along the way – although we’d be passing back this way the following day we didn’t know what the weather would be like or if we’d have time to try again. Once over the bridge we continued along the A87 for quite some time until we reached the guest house in Portree.

We did make some stops along the way for photographs for they had to be quick ones due to the number of midges that were in the air and biting – particularly at one stop where we tried to photograph a waterfall.

The room in the guest house was very small – so small you couldn’t open the door fully due to the bed closest to the door not leaving enough space for it. Having dropped off the majority of our stuff there we headed back into the town to look for somewhere to have an evening meal. It was probably a 10-15 minute drive through the countryside to get back there.

Once back in Portree it took quite some time to decide where to eat and eventually we settled on a small cafe like place that served some reasonable food. By the time we were done it was a night drive back to the guest house.

Scotland Day 2 – Edinburgh and Glasgow

Edinburgh City

Due to the previous day having been a particularly long and tiring day, I got up later than normal at 08:00 and went for breakfast. The guest house served a cooked breakfast with plenty of sausage, bacon, toast, etc. which was enough to keep us going for the busy day ahead.

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

We got to Calton Hill for around 09:30 and paid for 2 hours parking. We took a few photos but was back at the car only 50 minutes later. From the top of the hill we took photographs of the various structures on the hill and a few panoramic shots of the sprawling city in front of us. We also attempted to see if we could locate Edinburgh Castle so we’d have a rough idea of the direction we were heading in next.

Next we drove down the Royal mile taking an insane detour around the new tram system to get to the car park for Edinburgh Castle. The car park cost £6.80 for up to 2 hours. It was then a 15-20 minute walk to the castle and they had a lot of scaffolding up for some event. Based upon the timing I would assume they’d had a screen up for showing the London 2012 Olympics on.

Edinburgh Castle

The queue for tickets was incredibly long so rather than wait we used my iPhone to buy tickets online which meant we could go straight in. The tickets were £16 each, so fairly expensive for the short time we had available. We managed to do the castle in approximately 1 hour 10 minutes despite it being estimated at 1.5 to 3 hours. This was because we didn’t have much time to see much if we wanted to get to Glasgow in time for the last tour of the day at the Auchentoshan Distillery.

The drive to Glasgow took a while due to slow speed limits on dual carriageways, even on the motorway that runs through the middle of the city. We checked into the guest house just off the M8 first and then drove onwards to the Auchentoshan distillery. The sat nav at first took us to a housing estate but with my iPhone we found our way back to the motorway and took the correct turning.

The tour around the Auchentoshan Distillery cost £6 per person and lasted for about an hour. The tour shows the entire process from beginning to end of how they produce Scottish Whiskey. At the end of the tour you then get to sample several different types that they produce before being guided to the shop in case you want to make some purchases.

Auchentoshan Distillery, Glasgow

We were told one story of an international visitor who had bought one of their very expensive bottles (over £2,000) and bought some hip flasks for the coach ride back to Glasgow as their wives had disallowed them from drinking and this was their chance to try some Whisky. When asked if they threw the hip flasks in for free because of the price of the bottle the tour guide responded with “Did we hell?!” to which they got the response “Oh yeah, Scottish” or words to that effect.

Along the way to the distillery we had picked up some £3 sandwiches so sat and ate these in the car park before I drove us back into the city.

Kibble Palace

We then managed to get back to Glasgow in time to look round Kibble palace and the greenhouse of the botanical gardens. We had to park a fair distance away from the gardens, but the on road parking was free.

The botanical garden is fairly large, and between the Kibble Palace and greenhouses they have an impressive selection of plants including venus flytraps and pitcher plants.

We left there just after 18:00 and headed to the Necropolis which was not far from the guest house we’d be staying at.

The Necropolis has a Cathedral (St. Mungo’s Cathedral) on one side of the road, and then across a footbridge over the road you get to a Victorian-era “city of the dead” where there is a hill filled with tombs, gravestones and mausoleums.

St. Mungo’s Cathedral, Glasgow

Whilst here I tried to experiment some more taking HDR (High Dynamic Range Lighting) shots of the sun setting behind the monuments that sat atop the hill.

Afterwards we dropped off the car at the guesthouse along with all of our camera gear and went out looking for a place to eat. It was a 20 minute walk from the guest house to a place where we managed to get some great tasting Italian food.

Scotland Day 1 – Alnwick Castle

On the previous day one of my friends had celebrated his 30th Birthday, so as a celebration of that milestone we headed off to Scotland for a few days to explore the Highlands.

It was an early start as we were on the road not long after 04:00 – the flight we’d got meant we’d be in Edinburgh just after 08:00. We had a proper breakfast at Heathrow airport whilst we were waiting for the flight as we hadn’t eaten before leaving as it seemed too early for food. By the time we boarded the plane and had been airbourne for about 10 minutes we found we’d be getting another breakfast on the plane.

When we arrived in Edinburgh airport we had to visit the Avis desk to get the car we’d booked. As they didn’t have any of the one we booked we were upgraded to an Audi A3 Sportback. They did try to sell us the upgrade first, but we refused and got it anyway. Apparently this is quite common for car rental places, even outside the UK.

Our next leg of the journey may then seem a little crazy – we headed south, back across the border into England so we could visit Alnwick Castle. The reasoning behind this is that we wanted to see Alnwick Castle as it had been partially used for exterior shots of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the filming of Harry Potter – one such scene was when they were learning how to fly brooms in the first film. As we were flying up to Scotland it was easier and made some sense to do this first.

Alnwick Castle

We spent several hours looking around the castle, though it is not as big as some castles I’ve seen such as Warwick Castle – there isn’t even that much to do really. This one did however look like it was still lived in based upon the photos in some of the rooms. As it the weather was really good we did this tour of the castle quite slowly and got to relax a little. The food available at the Castle was limited though as the main restaurant was being used for a function.

As part of the castle tour there was a guided part underground through some dungeons where they try to put on a bit of a show; it was entertaining and the actors do manage to stay in character no matter what!

Once we’d finished the castle we headed out across the grounds in order to look around it’s gardens. The gardens are quite large and running up through the middle is a large cascade with water jets firing everywhere. Off to the wings and at the top there are various sorts of garden, though one of the more interesting ones is one which can only be viewed as part of a guided tour – the poison garden.

Atropa bella-donna

In the poison garden there are plants growing such as Belladonna (these days more commonly known as Deadly Nightshade), though they also have more common plants such as ones that produce nicotine – as they are additive they are considered a poison.

For the drive back I was behind the wheel all the way back to Edinburgh airport. On the way down to Alnwick we found the power socket in the car didn’t work so wouldn’t be too helpful with how much we’d be needing to use a satnav over the week. It didn’t take too long, they told us not to plug too much in to it and changed the fuse – I don’t think it was us that blew the fuse anyway.

From the airport I then drove us into the city to find our lodgings; it wasn’t too hard to find and there was some on-road parking available outside. From there we wandered around the local part of the city and found a pub to have our evening meal at.